Nicolas Stebbing reminds us of the importance of helping others
A few days ago, I returned from Zimbabwe and someone asked me: ‘What was the highlight of your trip?’ I thought for a while: was it the blue skies and lovely hills? Was it saying mass for the sisters at Penhalonga? Was it meeting some elephants in a game park? No. It was a morning at Penhalonga when I was called out of breakfast to meet three teachers from the High School and one of their pupils. He looked about 13 and was in fact 16. They told me his parents had split up; his mother had stage five cancer; his younger sister was her sole carer while he was at school; he had paid no fees that year and had no pocket money or that extra tuck that young people need to make the school diet bearable. He was offering to wash other boys’ clothes to make a bit of money. The teachers showed me his report and it was excellent—a string of As and Bs despite the trauma he was going through. Could we support him? The night before our trustees had told me we couldn’t afford to take on any more kids, but of course I said ‘Yes.’ How could I refuse? And what a joy it was to say ‘Yes.’ That really was the highlight of my trip.
This to me is what catholic Christianity is about. Catholic life begins in the heart of God. When Jesus appeared on earth to show us what God was like he showed compassion. He definitely cared about the poor, the sick, the weak, the excluded and those like this nice young boy who is going to have to watch his mother die leaving him the head of his family.
The boy’s name is Tadiwanashe, which means ‘We are loved by God.’ God shows his love by inspiring his disciples (you and me) to show that love in practical ways. St James is famously critical of rich people who tell a poor man to ‘Be warmed’ but don’t clothe him; ‘Be filled’ but don’t feed him (James 2:16). St Thomas Aquinas, that most Catholic of theologians said ‘because many persons are in need giving of one’s own goods is something everyone must do, so that each may assist those in need’ (ST II–II). Giving to those in need is not an optional extra for Christians and particularly not for catholics. It is at the heart of our faith because it expresses our own compassion for those who suffer, and reflects our own gratitude to God for all he has given us.
I still have the problem of how to pay for Tadiwanashe’s needs. Here is your chance. We need £1,000 for this coming year. Can you help with a small or large part of that sum? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can tell you the easiest way to pay it. Here is a chance to share in another of Christ’s promises: ‘I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (Jn 10:10). Think of Tadiwa. He looks forward only to his mother’s death. He must somehow take care of his sister and get her back into school. He has such potential: such a clever, hard-working and determined boy. We want to transform his life into the one that God wants him to have. Please help us do that.
Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR is brother of the Community of the Resurrection.